The Vatican's surprising reprimand of a Maryland-based nuns group could signal pressure on Catholic healthcare providers who similarly have broken with the church leadership over healthcare reform.
In April, the church ordered Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee changes over the 1,500-member Leadership Conference of Religious Women, which represents most of the 57,000 nuns and sisters in the U.S. The action is a result of a three-year investigation prompted after the group endorsed President Barack Obama's healthcare reform bill in 2009.
Sartain's deployment has caused some Catholic health experts to wonder if the Vatican will further rein in Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association of the United States, that have provided dependable support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Vatican's eight-page report cited, among other concerns, “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR,” and described the group as “silent on the right to live from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.”
“I have to say, it was like being socked in the stomach—it really took my breath away,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a nonvoting member of LCWR and executive director at Network, a Washington, D.C.-based Catholic group focused on social justice issues. How Sartain will attempt to reform LCWR was unclear, Campbell said. LCWR's leaders remain in Rome and are scheduled to convene later this month for a special meeting to discuss the Vatican's actions, a spokeswoman for the group said.
A CHA spokesman declined to comment. Whatever direction the church may take, Campbell said she doesn't see the CHA and its CEO, Sister Carol Keehan, reversing their support of the ACA: “I think it's way too soon to tell, but I do know Sister Carol is a committed, dedicated, vigilant advocate for healthcare for all,” Campbell said.